Page images

terate hatred of heresy he looked down on the opinions of the youthful embassador with contempt, was speedily won by his elegance and his attainments, and honoured him with the highest applause.

In 1576, his sister Mary, “the subject of all verse,” through the generosity of her uncle Leicester, who removed the obstacles arising from her father's comparative poverty, became Countess of Pembroke.

The year following, he had the happiness-can man have a greater? of vindicating his father, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, from the misrepresentations of his enemies with such success, that he was firmly re-instated in his Sovereign's favour. Upon that occasion, he had nearly involved himself in a dispute with the Earl of Ormond, a relation of the Queen ; refusing to reply, when that nobleman spoke to him, “ and being in dead silence on purpose :” but his adversary generously declared, “ he would accept no quarrel from a gentleman that was bound by nature to defend his father's cause, and who was otherwise furnished with so many virtues as he knew Mr. Philip to be.” Sidney was, at this time, the Queen's cupbearer.

In 1578, when the Count Palatine visited England,

* Though Sir Henry was of a gentle nature and of high public spirit, he knew that firmness, and occasionally severity, was necessary to rule a fierce and uncivilised people, who were far from being totally subdued. His strictness in levying the assessment imposed upon the Irish rendered him extremely unpopular, and was the occasion of his being recalled from his government. He has modestly displayed his own character, with greater advantage than any other hand could have drawn it, in his Letters, published with the correspondence of his illustrious family. “A more exalted character indeed, as Dr. Zouch correctly observes, can scarcely be found in the volume of history." VOL. II.


[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Elizabeth reported to him the abilities of Sidney in such terms, that Casimir invited him to join his army in the ensuing campaign: and it was only in dutiful compliance with the request of his father, who represented his own precarious and exposed situation, that he was diverted from accepting it. In the same year, Henry Stephens printed the works of Plato in three volumes folio, of which he sent one copy to Queen Elizabeth (to whom the first volume was inscribed) and another to his dear friend Mr. Philip Sidney.'

About this time, as we may infer from the letters of Languet, he appears to have expressed his disrelish of a courtier's life." . To spend his days in retirement with a few select friends,' he had

pronounced, even while abroad, the highest object of his ambition. His friend combated these notions, by expatiating on the duties which he owed to himself, his family, and his country. And a topic "now demanded the exercise of his talents, which regarded the essential interests of that country, it's liberty and it's religion. With the hope of annexing the crown of England to that of France, the Machiavelian Katharine of Medicis had in 1572 proposed to Elizabeth a matrimonial union with Henry Duke of Anjou, her favourite son. Upon the rejection of this

* Well might that happy father, writing to his second son, Mr. Robert Sidney, say: “ Follow the example of your most loving brother, who in loving you is comparable with me, or exceedeth me. Imitate his virtues, exercises, studies, and actions: he is a rare ornament of his age; the very formular, that all well-disposed young gentlemen of our court do form also their manners and life by. In truth, I speak it without flattery of him or myself, he hath the most virtues that ever 1 found in any man."

project, and the elevation of the French prince to the throne of Poland, her youngest son Francis Duke of Alençon (now become Duke of Anjou) was substituted in a similar overture: and though in 1575 her - Majesty, in her speech to parliament, had intimated her resolution not to forsake her poor and single state to match with the greatest monarch ;' four years afterward, she seemed to be less averse from “ the double knot.” Sidney, therefore, with patriotic ardor addressed to her a letter on the occasion,* from which it appears that she had frequently conversed with him upon the subject; and to it's earnest and argumentative cogency perhaps it was principally owing, that she ultimately declined the connexion.

In 1580, occurred the celebrated altercation be

* Of this letter written (as Hume affirms) with unusual elegance of expression, as well as force of reasoning, a copy is inserted in the Scrinia Ceciliana,' or Supplement of the Cabala, p. 201, and in the • Sidney Papers,' I. 287. It contains, observes Strype, many brief, but bright sentences; showing the mature judgement of the writer, his wisdom in counsel, his skill in politics, his acquaintance with the Roman history, his knowledge of foreign states and kingdoms and observations thence, his apprehension of the great danger from Papists, his concern for the Protestant interest abroad (of which she was the only protectress, as well as of the religion at home), the little or no advantage she was like to receive from France, her personal danger in case of a conclusion of this marriage with Monsieur, and how dear she was to her own people. (Annals of the Reformation, II. 567.) For publishing a tract, however, on the same subject, Stubbs the writer and Page the printer lost their right hands! Astrology, in courteous deference to Elizabeth's presumed inclinations, portended every thing propitious to the projected union : but by the Cambridge students, Buchanan, &c. it was characterised in terms of the severest reprobation,

tween him and the Earl of Oxford. This haughty nobleman, who had been previously distinguished by his feats of chivalry, entering a tennis-court where Sidney was playing, ordered him to depart with so overmastering a manner of pride, as a generous heart could not brook'it;' and, on his refusal, had recourse to illiberal appellations. These, Sidney retorted, were falsely applied. Oxford sent him a challenge. The lords of the council ineffectually offered their mediation : for Sidney had resolved to make no submission. Upon this, the Queen herself thought it necessary to interpose; and reminding the high-souled commoner of the difference in degree between earls and gentlemen, added that princes were under the necessity of supporting the dignities which they had conferred, and that if the gentry contemned the nobility, the peasantry would speedily learn to insult both. To which, with due reverence, Sidney replied ; that place was never intended for privilege to wrong, witness herself, who (how sovereign soever she were by throne, birth, education, and nature) yet was she content to cast her own affections into the same mould her subjects did, and govern all her rights by the laws.' He besought her Majesty at the same time to consider, that although the Earl of Oxford were a great lord by birth, alliance, and grace, yet he was no lord over him; and, therefore, the difference of degrees between freemen could not challenge any other homage than precedency. These sentiments, uttered with energy and respect, gave no offence to his Sovereign.*

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

* Prince Casimir and Languet deeply interested themselves in the dispute. The former even offered his assistance, in any

of paper,

Tò recover the composure of his mind, which had been somewhat ruffled by this incident, he retired to Wilton, the seat of his brother-in-law, the Earl of Pembroke; and here he planned his · Arcadia:' but whether it's design was suggested by the • Ethiopic History of Heliodorus, then recently translated into English by Underdowne, or the · Arcadia' of Sannazaro, must remain undecided. This simple and innocent story, which was originally written on loose sheets

the greatest part of it in the company of his sister, and the rest upon scraps sent to her as soon as they were finished, he himself invariably considered as ' a trifle, triflingly handled :' and he is even said previously to his death to have requested, like Virgil, that his imperfect labour might be committed to the flames.* His sister, however, piously collected the scattered manuscripts, revised them with the fondest attention, and thus stamped upon them the appropriate title of the Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.'

That this work was once held in high estimation, may be concluded from it's having gone through

way that might be deemed serviceable. Oxford, it seems, had called Sidney . a puppy. From his conduct upon this and some other occasions, of which Sir Fulke Greville has supplied many curious particulars, his besetting sin appears to have been rashness and impetuosity of temper. To this indeed, on the bloody day of Zutphen, when he entered the field without his cuisses (if it were not, rather, from a principle of fatalism) may be ascribed his untimely fall.

* He had not quite completed the third book. In this renunciation of his work, if the object of his general imitation was Heliodorus, he deviated from his Grecian prototype. That ingenious prelate, when the alternative was proposed to him of burning his romance or resigning his bishopric (of Tricca in Thessaly) chose the latter.

« PreviousContinue »